Farm Bureau: Right-To-Farm Ruling ‘A Win For The Entire Agricultural Community And Those Who Benefit From It’
A six-member district court jury sided with a chicken farmer and affirmed his right to farm earlier this month, ending a multi-year lawsuit that carried implications for farmers, as well as business owners beyond agriculture, across the state.
The case dates back to 2011, when Edwin Hostetler, the owner of an organic chicken farm in Hotchkiss, Colorado, was sued by a neighbor claiming the trespass of odor and dust onto her property. The case had been heard by a district court and the state court of appeals, and on June 1, the district court jury hearing the case ruled in Hostetler’s favor, upholding his family’s right to continue its farming operations on their property.
“The ruling is not only a win for the Hostetler family, but a win for the entire agricultural community and those who benefit from it,” Shawn Martini, vice president of advocacy for Colorado Farm Bureau, said in a comment to Western Wire. The organization, representing farmers and ranchers in the state, filed an amicus brief in support of the Hostetlers in 2014.
“Our land is our livelihood,” Martini continued. “Without the ability to safeguard our property we lose the right to conduct our operations and provide for our families.”
“Maintaining these rights is vital to preserving agriculture’s future,” he said.
Local and state officials had intervened in Hostetler’s favor over the years.
“I got involved very early in that case. It was a huge, huge victory,” Colo. State Senator Don Coram (R), who sits on the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee, told Western Wire.
“Years ago, I talked to the people and went and looked at the situation and met with the governor and got the state on board for protecting this right [to farm],” Coram continued.
In 2014, Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Department of Agriculture and then-Colorado Attorney General John Suthers (R) filed an amicus brief arguing that the Hostetler farm was protected under the state’s right-to-farm laws, which shield farmers and ranchers using standard farming practices from nuisance lawsuits.
A lower court ruling that had ruled against the farm and has since been appealed “undermines the Right to Farm Act by providing an alternative mechanism for opponents of farming operations to bring nuisance claims,” the governor wrote in his amicus brief at the time.
The way the court responded to these nuisance claims had the potential to affect industries beyond agriculture.
“It’s a situation where, had we lost the first case, if they could shut that down [the chicken farm], they could shut down any business in the state down because of the nuisance,” Coram explained.
“It could have actually gone much farther into situations where there’s a gravel operation, for example,” Coram continued. “It could be used to shut that down or trucking companies starting their trucks at 4 o’clock in the morning; it would shut those down. It goes far beyond agriculture.”
Following the ruling, Edwin Hostetler told High Country News that the case touches on the necessity of farming.
“It’s just important that we realize where our food comes from,” he told the publication in an interview. The paper reported that eggs from Hostetler’s farm are distributed to chains, such as King Soopers and Whole Foods, primarily within the state.
“… [A] large percentage of Americans do not understand the basic process of who grows their food or how it is grown,” Budd-Falen Law Offices, which represented the Hostetlers, wrote in a press release.
“There is also a percentage of people who simply do not like agricultural production and the families who make it happen,” the firm continued. “This mind set is the antithesis to the roots of this Country. Whether you are a soccer mom in Denver, a ski instructor in Vail, an accountant in Grand Junction, or a family living on 10 acres with a couple of horses in Golden, we all need to support agriculture.”